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The technology needs of the events industry continue to change rapidly as more tablets, smart phones and wireless devices come on the market. Thus, Smart City Networks conducted a comprehensive survey to study the latest technology and telecommunications issues affecting convention centers nationwide.

Smart City Networks partnered with Red 7 Media Research and Consulting, a research firm for the meetings and tradeshow industry, to conduct the survey.  Hundreds of convention center executives, leaders of convention and visitors bureaus (CVB), and destination marketing executives were polled for the survey in June 2011.

The survey focused on four primary issues:
• Perceptions of “good” technology in the convention center market,
• Understanding of Wi-Fi, free or not, by all parties,
• Customer frustrations with technology,
• Beyond the technology of today, including the development of 4G, digital signage and a connected campus.

Overall, the survey found that providing more information to the events industry, including show managers, exhibitors and attendees, about technology capabilities and costs is critically needed.

Specifically, over 70 percent of convention center managers recommend that show managers be better informed about the need for constant investment in infrastructure, the cost to deliver wireless services and the capabilities of wireless networks.

And 64 percent of venue managers and CVB stakeholders feel that event managers need more realistic expectations about the pricing and type of telecommunications and technology services offered at convention centers – a finding which again supports the need for more education about connectivity options, capabilities and costs.

“It’s not surprising that with free Wi-Fi at your neighborhood Starbucks or McDonald’s, that many event managers, exhibitors and attendees do not understand what it takes to provide quality Internet service for thousands of people at once, in one location,” said Mark Haley, president of Smart City Networks.  “This survey helps us to understand the needs of the facilities we serve, especially with regard to educating the events industry on technology capabilities, and how to move forward.”

The Smart City Networks survey showed that while show managers may ask for free Wi-Fi, over half do not specify a specific wireless service or speed. And building managers responded that a variety of Wi-Fi offerings should be provided, including: tiered wireless pricing options (76 percent of respondents), free Wi-Fi sponsored by an event (54 percent) and free Wi-Fi in public spaces (42 percent). Only 25 percent of those surveyed believe that free Wi-Fi should be available in the entire building.

“The survey showed that while most facility managers believe that some basic Wi-Fi should be offered for free, there is still great concern as to how a building can continue to upgrade the network and infrastructure without a consistent revenue stream from the wireless services,” said Haley.

The survey also addressed the growing trend of digital signage, and a significant 86 percent of venue managers said they were interested in having a permanent digital signage system in the public areas of their facilities. Fifty-six percent of the respondents saw a number of ways in which a digital signage system can add value.  The two most popular uses of digital signage were for way-finding/building information and advertising opportunities.

Additionally, the survey asked convention center executives and CVB leaders about creating a “connected campus,” specifically connecting convention center hotels to the convention center network via fiber, copper or wireless Internet.  The “connected campus” concept is seen as beneficial to a majority of the facility industry.  The most appealing features of a “connected campus” included the ability to improve the attendee experience, extend show information and offer integrated Wi-Fi.

Another significant finding of the survey was that 90 percent of venue managers and stakeholders said that telecommunications and Internet can or should be exclusive at facilities. Consistency and offering reliable, quality services were identified as important factors by facility managers in maintaining exclusive contracts for technology services.

“The findings of this survey will help us to develop wireless Internet products that best meet the changing needs of convention centers as well as the entire event industry,” said Haley.

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